Imago Dei Provides Clothes And More to Families in Need
A new charity is opening its doors in Lyons for families with foster and adopted children to provide free clothing and toys through a unique shopping experience. Imago Dei (Face of God) Missions will allow these families to enter a historic home, which has been renovated into a retail space, where clothes are arranged on racks organized by gender and size. The space features five rooms filled with items for children of all ages. If parents find items in Imago Dei which they may use for themselves, they are also welcomed to take these items. The volunteers at Imago Dei will “check out” the shoppers at a desk upon completion of shopping – truly offering them the full retail experience rather than typical charity. The idea to create this organization for foster families in need was sparked as Ashley Martin and Mandy Johnson, who attended presentations regarding foster and adoption situations at their church – specifically, through the talk given by Jessi Williams.
“Jessi spoke about the Promise686 organization, which empowers churches to assist in caring for local foster and adoptive families, as well as families in crisis,” Martin explained. “Our church partnered with the organization, and I began serving as a coordinator for the CarePortal – a system in which a Department of Family and Children’s Services (DFACS) worker is able to document a need for a family and alert participating churches for response. I began to see the types of needs that were requested and started praying about how I could collect the most needed items to fulfill the requests more efficiently.” Johnson offered a similar story as she discussed her enthusiasm for the idea came from her own experience as a member of a foster family. “The idea of fostering was planted in us when Jessi spoke at church. We spoke to our children, and they were all in on us doing the classes to foster,” she detailed. “We did all the training and almost a year after our last class, we were called to take two little ones; a few months later, we received another call for an emergency placement. We as a family were blessed during our foster journey by a clothes closet in Athens, and I knew one day I wanted to be able to give back and help the same way they ministered to us.” Martin and Johnson began their efforts to serve the community through this outreach in March 2021, when they operated out of a 10×12 climate-controlled storage unit; they continued to work in this facility until May, when the donations outgrew the space. The ministry then upgraded to a 12×38 storage unit, which they also quickly outgrew, leaving the pair hoping for a permanent space.
The pair’s church, “Women of Hope” ministry, decided to sponsor Imago Dei. “We told the church that one of our needs was a larger space, and that our 3-5 year goal was to have a house or storefront for our families to be able to come in and shop,” Martin explained. “The church voted unanimously in June to allow Imago Dei to lease a vacant house that they owned for a year.”
Johnson said, “We are so blessed to be in the building that we are in now. What began on December 26, 2020, as a general conversation between the two of us has grown over the last 10 months into an amazing ministry.”
This new facility is adjacent to the First Baptist Church in Lyons and is open throughout the month for those who wish to use the service. Currently, Imago Dei is open on the second and fourth Tuesdays of the month from 5 p.m. until 7 p.m., on the second and fourth Wednesdays from 11 a.m. until 1 p.m., and on the second and fourth Saturdays from 10 a.m. until 12 p.m. Imago Dei also makes appointments as needed for families who cannot attend during regular hours, and hopes to transition to being open five days a week in the future.
Imago Dei is also a free-standing ministry that welcomes the opportunity to work alongside any other organizations wishing to partner with them to meet the needs of foster, adoptive, and kinship families. The administration has created connections with the local DFCS office and is continuing to network with other organizations.
The ministry has also created a Board of Directors and Advisory Committee to aid in the decisions and administrative tasks of this endeavor. The Board of Directors consists of Danny Dixon, Jana Kight, Mindy Morrison, Jack Rountree, and Sarah Torrance, and the Advisory Committee currently has two members, Jamason and Lucille Odom. Martin and Johnson serve as executive directors.
Imago Dei depends on volunteer work to manage donations and to work the storefront. A minimum of 2 volunteers is always on-site on days the organization is open for families to come in, while other volunteers are needed to sort, fold, hang, and put away incoming donations. Anyone, from teenagers to adults, is welcomed to come help.
Also, donations of new or used clothes or other items are graciously accepted from the public. These items include clothing, shoes, toys, and bouncy seats, as well as items a family may need to transition children into a new home. The following items must come in as new items: underclothes, socks, diapers, wipes, deodorant, shampoo and conditioner, soap, body wash, baby wash, bottles, sippy cups, and more. Financial donations are also welcomed and will be used to cover monthly expenses and to purchase new items needed for families, such as underwear, socks, car seats, and clothing/ pajamas in sizes that Imago Dei may not have.
Goals for Imago Dei
Martin summarized her goals for Imago Dei through the explanation of the Latin phrase’s meaning. “Imago Dei is Latin for ‘image of God.’ It is my hope that every person that walks through the doors of Imago Dei Missions knows or comes to know that they have worth, dignity, and a purpose.” She added, “Something that has been so encouraging for me to see is how this ministry has already brought so many people in our community together for a purpose. I love seeing the unity it is bringing about, and I can’t wait to see more and more people get involved.”
Johnson echoed Martin’s thoughts. “I still stand in awe at how a casual conversation between Ashley and me in December 2020 has grown into this amazing ministry in under a year,” she added. “It has brought our community together to see the need right here in our area, and now, our 3-5 year goal has been met in under a year through the public location opening. Toombs County alone has 30 foster children, and we are already serving many other surrounding counties. Since we received our first call from DFCS in April 2021, we have served 27 families. We can’t wait to see how God continues to grow Imago Dei to bless families and our community.”
The pair hopes that one day, Imago Dei will be able to help those in need throughout the entire state.